Determinism And Freewill Are Opposite Ends of the Same Phenomenon

Determinism is a philosophical theory holding that all events are inevitable consequences of antecedent sufficient causes; often understood as denying the possibility of free will. I, for instance, do not know if determinism is a continuum, permeating all aspects of our lives but what I do know is that we have freewill, to a great extent. This freewill which I speak of is nonetheless limited in certain respects by no other concept but determinism. We cannot decide on how the natural world or the universe is organised. We cannot decide on what gases to breath in or what food or herbs to eat (we can’t eat plankton) or what anatomy to have as humans. We can only decide on our abstract wishes and desires – things closely related or emanating from us.

So I am tempted to conclude that maybe what we call “Determinism” and what we call “Freewill” are the polar opposites of the same phenomenon. In other words, to the extreme left is determinism and to the extreme right is freewill. And that humanity is moving from the former to the latter. The reason for the unending argument between proponents of the two theories is that philosophy itself (logic) has an inherent problem – in that it cannot tolerate ambiguity or gradations. Neither does it tolerate any concept resembling the gestalt one. A conglomerate concept handed down by nature is often broken down by philosophers into individual parts and then these philosophers spend the rest of their lives struggling to derive meaning from the separate ideas, when in fact by grouping these ideas, we could instantly arrive at something meaningful.

Let us test this idea (determinism and freewill as opposite ends) with a historical event like the second world war. Determinists will say that the war was bound to happen due to certain “antecedent sufficient causes” whether or not Hitler became chancellor of Germany at the time or whether any humans triggered it.  Proponents of freewill will say that the war occurred because of our thoughtless actions or mistakes as humans. But the fact remains, something good came out of the war, and that is the union of world nations. So we can say these two opposing concepts are a linear process juggling humanity back and forth depending on certain individual elements. African societies typically embrace determinism to a fault. In fact the typical unlettered African believe his actions or even his fate (misery or death) simply as by-products of certain divine arrangements and he is right in some respects. Perhaps we can say everything begins with Determinism and ends with Freewill. What are your thoughts?

12 thoughts on “Determinism And Freewill Are Opposite Ends of the Same Phenomenon

  1. It’s more like two layers. Free will sits comfortably within determinism. The paradox arises from a rather silly fraud, where a bait and switch replaces simple freedom with Absolute Freedom. Absolute Freedom does not and cannot exist. And you will not find it in any of the normal everyday uses of the word “free”.

    If we free a bird from a cage, is the bird also freed from causality? No. Without causality the bird would flap its wings in vain. The action would produce no reliable effect. So the whole idea of freedom from causality is rather silly.

    Same for free will. Without reliable cause and effect (determinism) the will could never implement its intent. It would become irrelevant and meaningless. Free will REQUIRES a deterministic universe.

    As to free will itself, it is nothing more and nothing less than us making decisions for ourselves. Our choice is our will at that moment. And if we were free of external compulsion (someone with a gun to our heads or a parent) forcing us to choose or act against our will, then our will is free.

    It seems counterintuitive (especially after you’ve been exposed to the fraud) but the fact is that every decision we make of our own free will is also inevitable. That’s right. We make our choices for our own reasons, and our reasoning determines the choice we make.

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    • I think you made an important point. That “Freewill sits comfortably within determinism,” that “Free will REQUIRES a deterministic universe.”

      If so, doesn’t that make us objects to a subject. That some supreme entity somewhere predetermined everything and put our freewill in a confinement as you pointed out.

      The existence of the universe can never be our doing. It was, long before we appeared on the scene and will be, long after we are gone.

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      • Without some reliable rules we would be nothing more than scattered protons and neutrons. With reliable cause and effect we have atoms becoming molecules becoming living cells becoming organisms becoming thinking beings with a life and purpose of their own forming communities and nations. To carry purpose is to carry causation. To possess mind and muscle is to choose what will become inevitable and make it so.


        • And all these choosing is done by who? Certainly, our choice is limited. So ultimately, we can agree that there is a higher entity with whom the rules emerged. Without this entity, I think there will be absolute void (nothingness), even protons and neutrons wouldn’t have a place.


          • The choosing is done by any biological organism with sufficient neurological development to have a mind where the mental process of choosing can take place.

            Whether the rules of the universe come from God or simply from the universe itself is a matter of personal belief.


            • I think the universe and God are same. To know certain rules governing the universe is to know an aspect of the nature of that “driving force” called God. I prefer to use the word “driving force” because God means different things to different people. I mean a force similar to an electric current without which all electronic/electrical devices will have no use or no existence.


              • Any view of the universe that is helpful and uplifting to the spirit is cool, so long as it doesn’t create objects we might trip over. Isn’t that the point of both Poetry and Religion?


                • It is. But if a thing is ultimately, truly helpful and uplifting it must posses some truth. If it does not it will be disappointing and painful. There is no point in living with a destructive/dispiriting truth throughout one’s life – as in a pygmy worrying about his height.


  2. I try to employ the free will to “frame” situations for myself. I don’t really believe I have free will, because so much of my life is constrained (as you have discussed above). I concur with the idea that free will requires limits within which to flourish – what a contradiction, no? 🙂 In any case, I can view my life as limited because my lot in life requires that I have a job to survive. I must play a role in the system – there is no choice about it. I have to go to work each day, and sit at a desk in front of a computer all day. Or…I can view that as an expression of my free will – I have the opportunity to choose to work.

    So, while I appreciate what you’re saying about my future being pre-determined, I am also curious about the part where we tell ourselves what we are experiencing.

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    • There are three things we can never be free of: causality, ourselves, and the real world. However, as purposeful causal agents we can change ourselves (acquire knowledge and skills, break old habits and form new ones, et cetera) and we can also change the real world (lobby for a candidate, organize or contribute to a charity, cure the common cold).

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    • Maybe we can simply say that by accepting and aligning what we experience with the deterministic universe, we can convince ourselves of having free will and indeed begin to see no constraints at all.

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